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Finding My Strength Later in Life as a Woman With C-PTSD

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I’ve been afraid most of my life. Afraid of getting in trouble. Afraid of authority figures. Afraid of standing up for myself. That’s what depression and anxiety do. Later I began to be afraid of being afraid and was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). At that point, something inside snapped, because now I alternate between being afraid of going to Walmart and feeling like Xena, Warrior Princess – sometimes in the same day.

• What is PTSD?

I remember eight years ago when I lay curled up in a fetal position on my bedroom floor, trying to speak – to make some kind of noise. At first, nothing would come out. Years of self-loathing, depression and anxiety had convinced me I had no right to a voice. No right to opinions or feelings. No right to even a self.

But I kept trying, and eventually, I could say words. Words turned into sentences. Over several years, I convinced myself that every human had a right to survive, and once the dam broke, I started running up to my friends with a goofy smile on my face and yelling:

“I’m allowed to have feelings!”

They were giddy along with me. I felt better than I had in decades. I wanted to fight. I wanted to be a force for good in the battle against evil. In the words of Jewel, I wanted to sing for the man who had no voice. In the words of Tom Petty, they could stand me up at the gates of hell, but I wouldn’t back down.

But along the way, something happened that I didn’t see coming. I turned 50.

I felt like I was 25 years old — like the whole world lay at my feet. My struggle had made me more understanding and compassionate than I had ever been. Mental illness and mental injury were no respecters of persons.

And I wasn’t afraid of anything, at least between the times when I was curled up under the covers afraid of everything. But hey, I didn’t get complex PTSD overnight; it wasn’t going to go away that quickly either.

But the empowerment I felt was at odds with the face in the mirror. And it was at odds with how people viewed me. I bleached my hair and went to my first Comic Con at 52. I started a vlog because that’s what I felt like doing, but I was surprised to find a lot of people thought that was “odd.”

I soon discovered that middle-aged women were expected to act a certain way and look a certain way – more like a 1950’s homemaker than an extra from “Revenge of the Nerds.”

When I was younger, I was an outsider because I was afraid I’d be rejected. Now I’m an outsider because after years of living in fear, I’m not ashamed of who I am.

But do I lament the lost years? Maybe just a teeny bit, but being the ultimate outsider can be empowering. Maybe I will never “fit in.”

But how different is that from the millions of people who deal with other mental illnesses?

Instead, I will be a refuge for people who can’t.

I am stronger and wiser for what I’ve been through. What I’ve lost in muscle tone, I’ve made up for in character. I’d prefer to find others like me (I know they’re out there because I’ve read their books), but if I fight alone that’s OK too.

The illness I thought would kill me has made me strong.

Follow this journey on Christine’s site.

Image from the contributor at Richmond Comic Con 2016

Originally published: March 16, 2017
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